Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Real Account is the latest internet craze – a conglomeration of several different social media sites all rolled into one, it has more users than any other platform. Ataru Kashiwagi, a second year high school student, puts on a good show of not being hooked, but the reality is that he's just as captivated by Real Account as anyone else. He doesn't really think much about it until one day when he's getting ready to play a game – suddenly he finds himself inside Real Account's platform with 9,999 other users. The platform seems to have gotten fed up with humans and their narcissistic ways, and now it plans to teach them a lesson about the dangers of self-absorption and what it really means to give up real world interactions…even if they have to die to learn it.
There comes a point in a genre when many consumers say “enough.” For the trapped-in-a-game genre, which is relatively young as these things go, that moment has been creeping up for many people, which may discourage them from picking up Okushō and Shizumu Watanabe's Real Account, because on the surface, it looks pretty much like every other iteration of the story. That would be a shame, though, because while Real Account's first volume does share some aspects with its tired brethren, it also takes the genre and looks at it from a different angle, and in many ways it shares more similarities with BTOOOM than with Sword Art Online.
Real Account's edge is that it is based in social media, that most ubiquitous use of the internet. In the story's world, most social media platforms have merged into a single one which functions like an amalgamation of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. This joining of the platforms has made for an even more addictive experience, and people are constantly immersed in their digital lives, comparing how many followers they have as signs of real-life popularity. Ataru Kashiwagi tries to hide the fact that he's on RA from his fellow students, which at first simply looks like he's trying to stand out in his high school by being “different.” As the story goes on, however, it begins to look more like he knows that RA is addictive and is hiding his shame at being just like everyone else by denying that he's a user. Whatever the reason, Ataru feels that his real life is online, that that's where people really care about him. His followers are more solid to him than his classmates, with only his younger sister Yuri truly existing to him. This is largely due, it is implied, to the fact that their parents died recently in an accident and that they have no other family. In a world where he faces the pressures of caring for his sister both financially and emotionally, life online sounds pretty good and like a valid escape. He just has to keep believing that it's a viable one.
Of course, that's not going to last, and less than half-way through chapter one, Ataru is one of 10,000 RA users who are pulled inside the platform. Real Account's mascot, Marble (or more likely a programmer at RA), has grown sick and tired of people not knowing how to interact with others in real life anymore, and so he's somehow engineered this series of special games to prove that internet friends aren't real ones. Naturally it's a death game and of course if the user dies in the game, he dies in real life…and so do his followers. If at any point someone finds themselves without any followers, they die.
This is where Real Account distinguishes itself, although if you don't have an issue with social media's treatment in society, it may read more as inter-generational griping. Marble's goal is to force people to realize how silly, and detrimental, it is to value yourself based on the number of false friends you have, or perhaps to realize how the meaning of the word “friend” has changed from someone you know and enjoy and can count on to someone who randomly presses a button because they like the picture of Your Dog you posted. While it can get heavy-handed at times, each of the “games” played in this volume speak to a different supposed evil of social media: “friends,” the search for internet fame, and selfies. Each task the trapped are given is cruel in a different way, and all are designed to strip them of their egos and show them what fools they really are. In one case that backfires, but it is a rare moment of hope. In Ataru's case, he is hampered by his fidelity to the truth and the fact that if he dies, Yuri will have no one. This does make him a major irritant to Marble, which looks like it is going to come back to bite him in the final pages of this volume, but it also gives him a different perspective than a lot of the other players.
While there is gore in this volume, it isn't gruesome, and most of the tension is psychological. This is probably a good thing, since Watanabe's art is nice enough but does not excel at movement; most panels are static. The book is heavily gray, which actually kind of works for the story, and most impressively the crowd scenes are diverse, not just a bunch of the same basic person drawn over and over again. As a special joke for those in the know, in images of the city where people are watching a live broadcast of RA, there's a sign that directly copies the logo for used bookstore “Book Off” but instead writes “Fuck Off,” which probably amused me more than it should have.
Real Account's first volume isn't always comfortable with itself and it can be too heavy-handed with its commentary. But this does feel like more than someone grumpy yelling at the damn Millennials to put down their phones for once in their lives because it does raise some valid points. Hopefully as it gets going the series will grow more adept at making its points with some subtlety, but even if it doesn't, this is an interesting take on a tired premise. Why not tweet your friends about it?
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting use of social media addiction as the premise, does make its points. Some nice visual touches, such as the narcissistic ads in the game world.
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